‘Authors should not expose themselves in public. Their mystery is their capital. Once seen, nobody wants to see them again. If they must show themselves, let it be at a distance – at the end of a long corridor, at the top of the stairs’ (William Gerhardie)
I first saw the great Finnish novelist Paavo Laami at the top of a flight of stairs. It was evening time and the only light in the area shone from the room behind him, making him more silhouette than man. Oh what a noble form it was! What an entrance! The friendly swarm of an aura that hung around about him, however, was somewhat destroyed when he tripped over the second step and landed in a heap by my feet. He kindly consented to autograph my shoe whilst I called for a doctor.
I shall now return to a man who is neither obscure (at least, not now) nor European, but nonetheless comes to mind. I have already thrown a grumble or two on the table regarding the treatment of his new book by a newspaper reviewer; now I shall grapple with the manner in which he was received, a month or so ago, by members of the British Broadcasting Corporation (principally Mr A Yentob).
The spirit of this documentary may perhaps be lauded, even though much of its content was simplistic in the extreme – with a few of its conclusions erring on the side of inaccuracy. Much was made of Mr Murakami’s ‘reclusiveness’. To call the man a recluse is not what you would call a ‘stinking fib’. He is clearly not the most social of creatures – and might well agree with the substance of the quotation above. On the other hand, I think the maker’s of this short film marched several streets too far, taking as primary evidence of Murakami’s outsider status the fact that he never appears on television or the radio. This, for them, seemed as good as doubting his very existence. No matter the fact that he often gives interviews to newspapers; that (as his current book confirms) he is not adverse to the odd lecture (or visiting role at a University) and that, as a committed runner, he can (if one so wished) be spotted in marathons across the world. Indeed, It would have been much more mysterious to me had the Japanese master consented to be harnagued by the BBC, than to have agreed to participate in a manner in which he did.
Lastly, on the subject of authors ‘exposing themselves in public’ (as Gerhardie puts it) I direct your attention to Boris Yashmilye, whose publicity for his debut novel Flashes at Midnight involved the unveiling of his unclothed posterior to the editors of several literary magazines, neither ‘at a distance’ nor (I am afraid) just the ‘once’.